An over-sized mug of sweet spice latte, a small bowl of crab grits and late-afternoon chatter…

An over-sized mug of sweet spice soy latte, a small bowl of crab grits and late-afternoon chatter among busboys and poets. Soulful food and good conversation are like keys to the Kingdom for many, especially for writers like myself. Sitting next to my co-worker and friend at the not-so-busy lunch counter in the heart of the U Street Corridor after midday traffic and a 2 o’clock meeting last Thursday, we casually rehearsed the on-goings of the day. Our eyes wandered and skimmed the spines of the colorful assortment of thin paperbacks, heavy volumes of poetry and other literary works lining the walls of one of the more popular local cafes. You know, this place was named after Langston [Hughes], I offered as an aside to my friend as she warmed her belly with a steaming cup of chai. She smiled knowingly at me and replied in the affirmative, stating that Langston is one of her favorite writers, as he is mine. Indeed, I recall perceiving a pointedly profound connection to Langston on first reading his poetry aloud. Is there any better way to experience the written word but by reading aloud? Langston simply had a uniquely fluid way of bypassing the fodder to get to the heart and soul of his themes. His colloquial speech, unabashed tone and persistent focus on the plight of the underrepresented, working-class and impoverished within society raised eyebrows and silenced polite conversation in many forums, but he left no stone unturned and no words unwritten.

Even today, Langston Hughes and his poetry remains a poignant symbol of the constant struggle that the average man and woman must endure to achieve the American dream and freedom. He still serves as one of the primary champions of breaking the cycle of poverty, ignorance and despair to realize our dreams once and for all. In his poem, As I Grew Older, he wrote:

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun–
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky–
The wall.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

As an African-American, a working-class woman, a writer/poet, and one who has lain in the shadows, I hear both the pain and fight for glory in Langston’s stirring plea to his audience here.  And like Langston, everyday, I fight to shatter [my] darkness. Did this ardent poet finally succumb to his own personal demons and the ills of this world? Was his supposedly undiagnosed depression a vehicle for his striking prose and highly emotional voice? Or did he eventually grab hold of his long-awaited, elusive dream in his heart? At his death, was he at peace? Unless we shared his innermost thoughts and desires, we will never know. All we have is his legacy, his written word. This is enough for me. As I work through my own feelings, strengths and limitations, I think of Langston in spirit soaring miles above me, carrying the weight of the world but somehow still ascending, higher and higher. Maybe one day, I will catch a stray wind from his draft and lift into the air alongside him…both of us then, rushing straight out of the shadows and finally, into the sun.



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